North Korea Allows Visit by Nuclear Inspectors

VIENNA, Austria, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - A technical team from the United Nations nuclear oversight agency is visiting a nuclear laboratory in North Korea for the first time this week.

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency are visiting the Isotope Production Laboratory during their survey of nuclear facilities in the Nyongbyon area of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

At their Vienna headquarters, agency officials said the Isotope Production Laboratory was said by the DPRK to have been involved in the early stages of development of the North Korean nuclear program.


IAEA safeguards seals are verified with laser disk recording. (Photos courtesy IAEA)
Last May, the agency proposed to the DPRK concrete steps that need to be carried out to verify that all nuclear material in the country had been declared to the agency, process IAEA officials say could take up to four years. The agency indicated its readiness to start implementing verification measures immediately.

At a technical meeting between the DPRK and the agency in Vienna in November 2001, the DPRK did not agree to promptly implement those proposals, citing the delay in implementation of the USA/DPRK Agreed Framework as the principal reason for declining.

Under the Agreed Framework signed in 1994, North Korea froze its suspected nuclear arms program in exchange for receiving two safer nuclear power reactors which are being constructed by a U.S. led international consortium.

The multi-billion dollar project was supposed to be finished by 2003 but delays now make 2008 the earliest possible completion date.

Despite the delay, North Korea did agree to a visit, not an inspection, by IAEA inspectors to the Isotope Production Laboratory, a move viewed as a step towards normalization of relations with the agency.

North Korea withdrew its membership from the IAEA in June 1994.


Mohamed ElBaradei is IAEA director general.
"This is a small but welcome step towards a return to full-fledged inspections required under North Korea's safeguards agreement," said Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Since 1993, the IAEA has been unable to fully implement its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the DPRK, and has been therefore unable to verify the completeness and correctness of the DPRK's initial 1992 declaration of its nuclear inventory.

Since November 1994, the agency has been monitoring the "freeze" of the DPRK's graphite moderated reactors and related facilities. It has also maintained a continuous inspector presence at the Nyongbyon site.

The IAEA has done this monitoring at the request of the United Nations Security Council request and in accordance with the Agreed Framework between the USA and the DPRK.

Director General ElBaradei is encouraging North Korea to normalize its relations with the agency including resumption of full safeguards inspections.